Verstappen at 24 — when some F1 legends were only getting started


Max Verstappen already has a wealth of experience to draw on as he turns 24 and, at the current rate, will have a record to match the likes of Prost and Senna before hitting 30

Max Verstappen, 2021 Russian GP

Verstappen has 17 wins already and is on pace to catch the likes of Stewart and Senna

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Ayrton Senna, Jim Clark and Emerson Fittipaldi. Other than having Formula 1 world championships in common, each made their debuts at the age of 24 years old.

Max Verstappen turns 24 today and already has 134 races under his belt, 17 of those are race victories.

The old adage ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’ was Red Bull’s manta when it introduced the world to its newest F1 talent back in 2014 and he has more than proven that to be true since then.

Son of Jos ‘the Boss’, Verstappen was announced as a Toro Rosso driver for 2015 ahead of his 17th Birthday, while he was still too young for a standard driving licence. His first F1 outing came at just 17 years and 5 days during FP1 for the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix in preparation for his first full season.

At that stage, the head of Red Bull’s junior development programme, Dr Helmut Marko, was already comparing Verstappen to Senna, calling him a natural talent that comes along very rarely. Equating a youngster who hadn’t won any championships on his way through the ranks to one of the all-time greats was incomprehensible.

Seven years on and Verstappen is now involved in his first world title fight, and the only weird thing about that is it feels overdue.

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The ascension has been rapid: he is the youngest driver to score a point at 17 years, 180 days old in just his second race, and it would’ve been younger had his Renault power unit held on during the 2015 Australian GP. He became the youngest winner in F1 history one year later at the 2016 Spanish GP, winning on Red Bull debut at just 18 years, 228 days old. After his home victory earlier this season, he’s also the most successful driver to have not won a world championship, though that statistic is one he hopes not to hold by December.

Marko’s comparison doesn’t look so silly anymore.

Senna reached 17 race wins at the age of 29 during the 1989 campaign and was only starting out with Toleman aged 24. Verstappen is already contending for a championship against the most successful F1 driver of all time, though he’s not the first to face that prospect.

The last youngster to come along and topple a seven-time champion was Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard made his F1 debut at 20 with Minardi, spiritually the same team Verstappen debuted with.

Alonso was a race winner by 23, scoring his maiden win at the 2003 Hungarian Grand Prix with Renault but it remained his only one until his title-winning 2005 season aged 25. Alonso reached the 17-win mark during the 2007 season when he was at McLaren in what was his seventh season. Verstappen has a similar strike rate so far, but has accomplished his wins well ahead of Alonso and other comparable drivers.

mv_Peter Fox _ Stringer

17 years old on debut in Japan back in 2014

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Kimi Räikkönen was another rookie in 2001 and, like Verstappen, had drawn criticism for being too inexperienced when he was signed to Sauber. When the Finn arrived on the scene in 2001, he had just two seasons of single seater experience aged 22.

Räikkönen secured points on his debut for the Swiss team and those doubts were cast aside, his speed clear for all to see. He was also called up to a bigger team in just his second year, joining McLaren for 2002. Unlike Verstappen though, Räikkönen would have to wait another year before he’d secure his maiden win in ’03 at 23 years-old.

Both were at a top team early in their careers and championship contenders by the time they were 24. For Kimi, he’d have to wait a few more years until 2007 to claim an F1 title.

One record that Verstappen can no longer swipe is F1’s youngest world champion. That accolade still belongs to Sebastian Vettel who took his maiden crown at 23 years, 134 days old.

The German debuted in 2007 with BMW Sauber and was a race winner a year later at 21 with Toro Rosso. His promotion to Red Bull for 2009 was a prequel to championship success in 2010 and the first of four consecutive titles, becoming the youngest multiple world championship winner with Red Bull.

By 24, Vettel was already a world champion, on the way to a second and had 16 race victories to his name, just one win short of what Verstappen has accomplished so far.

Likewise, Lewis Hamilton falls behind Verstappen’s total number of victories by the age of 24, 11 to 17 in the Dutch driver’s favour.


Verstappen is already out-pacing Hamilton in terms of wins at 24

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Hamilton was chosen and shaped by McLaren during the early years of his career in much the same way Verstappen was by Red Bull. At 22 and fresh from the GP2 crown, Hamilton was thrown in at the deep end. He took Alonso and Räikkönen to the brink and went within a point of a title in his rookie campaign.

He won his first world title at 23 at McLaren and was the first of his generation of drivers to win a title, ahead of Vettel and Nico Rosberg. Verstappen looks set to be the first driver from the group of future stars to win a title ahead of the likes of Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc.

By the end of the 2021 season, Verstappen will have been in Formula 1 for seven seasons. He will be closing in on halfway to Michael Schumacher’s 306.

Hamilton may have taken his 100th win and pushed the benchmark further than anyone thought possible, but at 24 and with a top team, Verstappen already has almost a fifth of that tally and has plenty of time to catch up.

Senna was just getting started at 24, Alain Prost was 25 when he entered F1 and Jackie Stewart 26. Verstappen is just 10 race victories back from Stewart’s total and 24 behind Senna and 34 off of Prost’s 51. It isn’t out of the realms of possibility that he cracks the top five for all-time wins before he hits 30.